Waterfowl refers to birds which live on ponds and lakes such as Swans, Geese, Ducks and their smaller cousins such as Coots and Moorhens.
Living on water affords them some protection from natural predators but they are commonly affected by fishing line and dog attacks.
When to Help
|If the bird has been hit by a car or attacked by a dog.|
|The bird should be treated for shock and properly assessed for injuries.|
|If the bird has fishing line tangled round its body or coming out of its beak|
|Check that it is line though and not just pond weed!|
|If the bird has an obvious injury|
|If you can see a wound or a leg or wing is visibly damaged the bird will need help.|
|A bird with a deformed wing.|
|There is a condition called Airplane or Angel Wing which causes part of the wing to sit at a right angle to the body. These birds will never fly and need permanent sanctuary.|
|A pet bird abandoned in the wild.|
|These birds often can’t even swim let alone fly and are easy prey for foxes. They are easily spotted as they are usually tame and often white or brightly coloured.|
|A bird which is “oiled”|
|Babies which are alone or groups without a parent.|
|Observe to see if Mum returns and if not call for help.|
|A duck nesting in an unsuitable location|
|For example a garden, hanging basket, on a swimming pool etc. They’ll be vulnerable to predators & may need to be relocated. Call a wildlife rescue for detailed advice.|
|A swan with its foot tucked up on its back.|
|This is quite normal. If you are worried that the bird is injured, try to tempt it onto land with some food to see if it can walk normally.|
Capture, Care and Containment
Do not attempt to capture large birds such as swans and geese yourself. Whilst tales of swans breaking your arm are somewhat exaggerated these are big, powerful birds who could certainly cause a few bruises and should only be handled by experts.
Smaller birds such as ducks and moorhens can be caught quite safely, though they can give a fairly good peck so you may wish to use gloves or a towel. It is wise to point the rear end away from you if possible as they have a habit of relieving themselves when scared and this will be liquid and travelling at a surprising velocity! If the bird is still mobile, you do need to be careful not to scare it back into the water or into flying away so, if you are not sure you can pick the bird up easily, it’s best to seek assistance from experienced rescuers.
A large, sturdy cardboard box may be sufficient here but a carry box designed for cats might be better if the bird is still lively and determined. If using a cardboard box, ensure the lid is secured to prevent escape and make sure to provide air holes. Place the box somewhere warm and quiet and keep children and pets away. If it’s a baby bird, please minimise your contact with the baby as much as possible as they imprint very easily.
If the bird has been caught by a cat then you must seek urgent help. The bird will need to be given antibiotics within a few hours of being bitten or it may develop fatal septicaemia. Some wildlife rescues are available 24/7 for this sort of emergency and we try to give some indication of availability on our listings. You could also contact local vets – although they will not have facilities for the long term care of the bird, they may be willing to provide a one off dose of antibiotics. Some may even do so free or at a much reduced price.
It is not generally necessary or advisable to provide food and water if you are getting the bird to a rescue quickly. Never attempt to force feed water to a bird as it is very easy to drown them and never offer cow’s milk or alcohol.
It is not necessary, and would likely be harmful, to allow a waterfowl casualty to bathe. Oiled, unwell and baby water birds may not have the waterproofing needed to swim without becoming water logged and may then become hypothermic if allowed to get wet. If you pick up a baby who is wet, especially if it appears weak, it may be beneficial to gently dry them with a warm (not hot) hair dryer. Whilst it is common knowledge that oiled birds are bathed with washing up liquid, please do not attempt this yourself. It is vital that the bird is stabilised and rehydrated first.
It is likely that the bird will be shocked or weakened so supplementary heat can be very helpful in many cases and is essential for fluffy babies and oiled birds which will not be able to regulate their own temperature. You can put a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel at one end of the box, either inside, underneath or next to the box, ensuring the bird can get away from the heat if it wants to. If the bird begins to pant, remove the heat source immediately.
NB – this advice is designed to cover the first couple of hours. If you are not able to get the bird to a wildlife rescue within this time, please at least speak to someone by phone for further advice about care beyond this period.